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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him|
Chapter XXXII - Colonel Roosevelt And General Wood
by Tumulty, Joseph P.
|It will be recalled that early in the war Colonel Roosevelt called at the
White House to confer with the President regarding his desire to lead a
brigade to the other side. I recall distinctly every fact of that meeting.
I was seated a few feet away in the Red Room of the White House at the
time these two men were conferring. Nothing could have been pleasanter or
more agreeable than this meeting. They had not met since they were
political opponents in 1912, but prior to that they had had two or three
friendly visits with each other. Mr. Wilson had once lunched with Colonel
Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill, and when the Colonel was President, he and his
party had been luncheon guests of President and Mrs. Wilson of Princeton
University on the occasion of an Army and Navy game played on the
They met in the White House in the most friendly fashion, told each other
anecdotes, and seemed to enjoy together what the Colonel was accustomed to
call a "bully time."
The object of the Colonel's call was discussed without heat or bitterness.
The President placed before the Colonel his own ideas regarding Mr.
Roosevelt's desire to serve, and the attitude of the General Staff toward
the volunteer system, a system that would have to be recognized if the
Colonel's ambition was to be realized. As a matter of fact, instead of
being moved by any ill will toward the Colonel, the inclination of the
President was to overrule the recommendation of the General Staff and urge
that the Colonel be granted permission to go over seas. The salutations at
the end of the conference were most friendly and the Colonel, on his way
out, stopped in to see me. He slapped me on the back in the most friendly
way, and said: "By Jove, Tumulty, you are a man after my own heart! Six
children, eh? Well now, you get me across and I will put you on my staff,
and you may tell Mrs. Tumulty that I will not allow them to place you at
any point of danger."
Some weeks later, I received the following letter from Colonel Roosevelt:
Oyster Bay, Long Island, N. Y.
After the Colonel departed, the President in a boyish way said: "Well, and
how did the Colonel impress you?" I told the President of the very
favourable impression the Colonel had made upon me by his buoyancy, charm
of manner, and his great good nature. The President replied by saying:
"Yes, he is a great big boy. I was, as formerly, charmed by his
personality. There is a sweetness about him that is very compelling. You
can't resist the man. I can easily understand why his followers are so
fond of him."
April 12, 1917.
MY DEAR MR. TUMULTY:
That was a fine speech of Williams. I shall write him and congratulate
Now, don't forget that it might be a very good thing to have you as
one of my commissioned officers at Headquarters. You could do really
important work there, and tell Mrs. Tumulty and the six children, that
this particular service would probably not be dangerous. Come, sure!
MR. JOSEPH P. TUMULTY,
Secretary to the President,
[Illustration: Colonel Roosevelt sent this letter to Mr. Tumulty shortly
after his one and only call upon President Wilson at the White House.
[Transcriber's note: contains a reproduction of the letter from Roosevelt
It was, therefore, with real pain that the President read the account of
this interview as contained in John J. Leary's book entitled "Talks with
T. R.," containing many slighting references made by the Colonel to the
President. It appears that Mr. Leary accompanied the Colonel to the White
House and immediately upon the conclusion of the conference was the
recipient of a confidential statement of the Colonel's impression of the
President. The account in Mr. Leary's book is as follows:
I found that, though I had written plainly enough, there was confusion
in his [Wilson's] mind as to what I wanted to do. I explained
everything to him. He seemed to take it well, but--remember I was
talking to Mr. Wilson.
Of course, what ultimately happened is clear to everyone, civilian and
soldier, who pauses a moment to reflect; as plans for the conduct of the
war matured, it became continually clearer that it must be a professional
war, conducted by professionals with complete authority over subordinates.
There could be no experimenting with volunteer commanders, no matter how
great their valour, how pure their motives, or how eminent their positions
in the nation. To make an exception of Colonel Roosevelt would have been
to strike at the heart of the whole design. Military experts and the
majority of Congressional opinion were at one in this matter, though
Congress put upon the President the responsibility of making the final
decision, together with whatever obloquy this would entail. It was purely
as a step in the interest of waging the war with greatest effectiveness
that the President announced the decision adverse to the Colonel's wishes.
Personally it would have been pleasanter for the President to grant the
Colonel's request, but President Wilson has never adopted "the easiest
* * * * *
Tumulty, by way of a half joke, said he might go to France with me. I
said: 'By Jove, you come right along! I'll have a place for you.' I
would, too, but it wouldn't be the place he thinks. It is possible he
might be sent along as sort of a watchdog to keep Mr. Wilson informed
as to what was being done. He wouldn't be, though. He'd keep his
distance from headquarters except when he was sent for.
* * * * *
He [Wilson] has promised me nothing definitely, but as I have said, if
any other man than he talked to me as he did, I would feel assured. If
I talked to another man as he talked to me it would mean that that man
was going to get permission to fight. But I was talking to Mr. Wilson.
His words may mean much, they may mean little. He has, however, left
the door open.
A great deal of criticism was heaped upon the President for what appeared
to the outside as his refusal to send General Leonard Wood to France.
Although a fierce storm of criticism beat upon him, the President
displayed no resentment, nor, indeed, did he seem to notice what his
critics were saying.
As a matter of fact, the President played no part in the movement to keep
General Wood from realizing his ambition to lead his division to France.
Mr. George Creel in his book, "The War, The World and Wilson," has
succinctly summarized this incident; has told how the name of General Wood
did not appear in any of the lists of officers received from General
Pershing; how the President took this as a plain indication that General
Pershing did not desire General Wood in France (the absence of so eminent
a name from the lists was certainly not an oversight 011 the part of the
Commanding General in France); how President Wilson was determined to
support General Pershing in every detail so long as General Pershing in
the President's opinion was meeting the requirements of the great
responsibility laid upon him; how the President was insistent that General
Pershing should not be embarrassed by political considerations of any kind
in the discharge of his great military duty; how the unfortunate feature
of the whole matter was that the recall of General Wood did not come until
"after he had taken his brigade to New York preparatory to sailing for the
other side"; how "General March treated the circumstance as one of
military routine entirely, utterly failing to realize its political
importance"; how "instead of informing General Wood at once that he had
not been chosen to go to France, General March followed the established
procedure and waited for the completion of the training period before
issuing orders to the division commanders"; how "General Wood left Camp
Funston in advance of his division and without waiting to receive his
orders"; how General March sent these orders to New York; how "in
consequence there was an appearance of eleventh-hour action, an effect of
jerking General Wood from the very deck of the transport"; how "General
Wood carried his complaint to the President and was told plainly that the
list would not be revised in the personal interest of any soldier or
I discussed the matter with General Wood immediately upon the conclusion
of his conference with the President. Walking into my office after his
interview, the General informed me that his talk with the President was
most agreeable and satisfactory and that he was certain, although the
President did not intimate it to him, that the reason for his being held
in America could not be attributed to the President. Turning to me, the
General said: "I know who is responsible for this. It is that man
Pershing." I assured the General that there was nothing in the President's
attitude toward him that was in the least degree unfriendly, and reminded
him how the President had retained him as Chief of Staff when he assumed
office in 1913. The General, very much to my surprise, intimated that back
of Pershing's attitude toward him was political consideration. I tried to
reassure him and, indeed, I resented this characterization of General
Pershing as an unjust and unwarranted imputation upon the Commander of the
American Expeditionary Forces.
I myself felt that General Wood was being unfairly treated, although I did
not admit this to him in our interview. I took the liberty of saying this
to the President over the telephone from my house that evening. I tried to
convince the President that there was a feeling rapidly spreading
throughout the country that Wood was being unfairly treated and that it
was not just that the Administration, which I knew was blameless in the
matter, should be compelled to bear the responsibility of the whole thing
and pay what I was certain would be a great price in the loss of popular
The President in his reply to my statement showed irritation at what I
said in General Wood's behalf, and used very emphatic language in
conveying to me the idea that he would not interfere in having the list,
upon which General Wood's name appeared, revised. I urged that if General
Wood was not to be sent to France, he should be given a chance to go to
Italy. Our conversation over the telephone in reference to the Wood matter
was as follows: "I trust, Governor, that you can see your way clear to
send General Wood either to France or to Italy."
Without a moment's hesitation, the President said: "I am sorry, but it
cannot be done."
Whereupon, I said: "It is not fair that the Administration should be
carrying the burden of this whole affair. If General Pershing or the
General Staff is responsible for holding General Wood in this country,
surely they have good reason, and the public ought to be apprised of it,
and thus remove the suspicion that we are playing politics."
The President quickly interrupted me and said: "I am not at all interested
in any squabble or quarrel between General Pershing and General Wood. The
only thing I am interested in is winning this war. I selected General
Pershing for this task and I intend to back him up in every recommendation
When I tried to emphasize the feeling of dissatisfaction throughout the
country over the Wood incident, he replied that the responsibility of
winning the war was upon General Pershing and himself and not upon the
critics who thought that General Wood was being badly treated. I then
said: "But it is not fair to you to have it said that by reason of some
feeling that you may have against Wood you are keeping him on this side."
The President replied: "I am sorry, but I do not care a damn for the
criticism of the country. It would not be fair to Pershing if I tried to
escape what appears to be my responsibility. I do not intend to embarrass
General Pershing by forcing his hand. If Pershing does not make good, I
will recall him, but it must not be said that I have failed to support him
at every turn."
His attitude toward Wood and Roosevelt was consistently maintained, in
supporting the General Staff and the War Department throughout the war.
The only thing that seemed to interest him was how quickly and effectively
to do the job and to find the man who could do it.